Re-blogged from Representing the Mambo (a good article, though I don’t agree with all of it, OK? – Jim D)
The passions generated on both sides of the Israel-Palestine debate have always been ever so slightly lost on yours truly. I can’t stand the way that Israel treats the Palestinians but I still find the British left’s utter preoccupation with the issue mystifying. Go over to Shiraz Socialist for instance and probably half the debates over there either start or end up being discussions of the question. Harry’s Place, a site that as every day passes I get less and less enthusiastic about, is positively obsessed.
So I normally try and keep out of it. My position starts with instinctive support for the Palestinians as they are the ones being oppressed, but finishes with the acknowledgement that Israel has the right to exist and to try and imagine it away is insanity.
However, I thought I would type a few remarks on the subject of boycotts this evening as an article I read in the Guardian piqued my interest.
It’s penned by Daniel Taub, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, so you can guess what he is going to argue. Normally I would just dismiss it out of hand, but it raises a few points of interest. Have a read.
There’s no question that Israel is being targeted for special treatment. Figures in the arts, academia and the Israeli labour movement are subject to actual or threatened boycott, sometimes purely on the basis of their Israeli citizenship.
I have no particular objection to boycotts in and of themselves. Maybe this one will bring the Israelis to the negotiating table or make them reverse their oppressive policies. I see little evidence to suggest it will however. Clearly some in the Israeli establishment are rattled by it, which is why it is generating so much discussion and condemnation. But as I say, I see little evidence of its impact on the ground. Trade between the two countries is in fact continuing to increase significantly, surely one of the best measures of the success of any boycott.
My real issue with this boycott is: why Israel? Why just them? Why are Unison and the TUC not organising similar campaigns against other countries with appalling human rights records? Why not China? Russia? Iran? America? Great Britain?
One of the comments below the line in the Guardian makes an argument worth examining (and refuting)
“Ordinary Israelis go about their daily business without a thought for the consequences of their passive acceptance of the states brutal oppressive occupation of other people’s lands in the OT and Golan.
It’s time that like South Africa ordinary Israelis understand that the failure of their govt to find a peaceful solution is their failure too.”
Would we be happy if we in the UK faced similar treatment? What if academics in another part of the world organised a boycott of British academics and artists because of ‘our’ role in the Iraq War or continuing involvement in Afghanistan? Surely by voting in successive administrations that supported and continue to support the ‘War on Terror’, we are all as complicit in oppression as ordinary Israelis are? It is unacceptable that we allow our governments to behave like this, I agree, but why the special treatment for one country?
I agree entirely that the record of successive Israeli governments and this administration’s quite appalling behaviour should be condemned in the strongest possible terms but they aren’t unique in that regard. In fact, quite the opposite. So why is Israel being singled out?
I don’t think it is actually a question of anti-semitism, like many of my fellow anti-boycotters might argue, but rather a wilful blindness to all of the other awful things going on in the world right now, allied to the perception, a hopelessly flawed one I might add, that a resolution to the Israel/Palestine question in favour of the Palestinians is somehow the key to defeating ‘imperialism’ worldwide. According to this view Israel is ‘imperialism’ made flesh like no other state.
Obviously it isn’t really, it is a class-ridden society like any other in 2012, but the argument has a superficial appeal and allows you to justify all sorts of actions, however feeble, against Netanyahu, Barak et al.
I do think however that international questions like Israel/Palestine give trade unions, and especially leftish trade union bureaucrats, the opportunity to display some radicalism that they would never dare show domestically. They act as a sop to the organised left in the labour movement and can be used as a valve to let off pressure when their less than glorious record of domestic success is subject to scrutiny or when it comes to the possibility of a confrontation with the government. For instance, Unison would have been far better off supporting tomorrow’s strike rather than passing resolutions on questions that it can have little hope of having any impact on. That would have been a far more significant act of political courage.
I have no problem with discussion of international questions inside the trade unions, and of course internationalism is a basic principle of the labour movement, but we in Britain need to get our own house in order first. We are unlikely to reverse the years of membership decline with these sorts of stands. People will wonder what a union has to offer them and their lives and when they see that the focus of many union conferences is impotent grandstanding, then they are hardly likely to join are they……..
(Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favour of impotent grandstanding, I do it all the time on this blog, but in terms of priorities it should be a distant second behind actual organising in one’s immediate community and workplace)
Surely a more productive form of solidarity would be to provide practical assistance to the struggles of ordinary working class Israelis, whether Jewish or Arab, who are both victims of their appalling neoliberal government, and who attack the Palestinians as a means to distract attention away from their cuts and anti-worker policies.
I’ve no doubt that the people advocating a boycott are motivated by a well-founded horror at the actions of the Israeli government, but the boycott approach is counterproductive, morally dubious, driven by an exceptionalism that I am deeply uncomfortable with and is in fact an inadvertent but nonetheless wholly unnecessary distraction from the frequently savage behaviour of the Israeli government. The focus is on the efficacy of a set of tactics and not on Israeli government brutality and human rights abuses, which is a tragedy.